I’ve disliked living on Long Island for about as long as I can remember. Now I hate it.
It started as child, thrust into a culture that coddled me. My friends never understood why I, as a music student, craved visits to the city. To them, Long Island offered everything Manhattan did with added bonuses: sprawling houses, trees, yacht clubs, beaches, and clay tennis courts.
But Long Island also offered something else the city couldn’t, something which drove our parents to raise us here, something I’d taken for granted until now: safety.
I haven’t been in Manhattan for over a week. I was supposed to travel in this past Tuesday–to take the LIRR commuter train 45 minutes or so into Penn Station at 34th Street and 7th Avenue–for a job interview. That is, until my mother called at around 9 am.
“A plane crashed into the Twin Towers.”
Immediately, I discounted her concern. My mother doesn’t like to drive in the rain; my parents cancelled a trip to California this summer, fearful of experiencing a power outage.
Then, however, I turned on the radio, got acquainted with the truth, and, like a native Long Islander, averted danger, canceling my interview via e-mail before the second plane hit. I would not be putting myself in harm’s way today, I said to myself. I’m not going anywhere near that city.
Some people–and rightfully so–consider the life of a freelance writer a boring one, an existence that doesn’t make for riveting reflection. We awake, drink coffee, visit the gym, return home, check our e-mail, surf the Net, and finish whatever assignment we’re currently at work on.
The problem with that existence, though, the riveting nature of it, this time–living on Long Island and being a freelance writer who considers himself a New Yorker–is that I haven’t been able to pull myself away from the one channel–CBS 2–my television currently receives. I haven’t been able to stop viewing what I, and my locale, have sheltered me from. I watch all day and night. And I’m not planning to stop.
Like many people, I saw Tower 2 leveled live from the safety of my suburb. And since, I’ve had a sharp pain in my left shoulder, right at its meeting-point with my neck, been short of breath, and mildly nauseated. Why? Not entirely because of the tragedy. Because I can’t feel what I should about it, because I’m not there, because I can’t really help.
See, I can’t give blood (health reasons). I write about the arts and technology (not news). And I live on Long Island, to boot, a strip of land safely cut off from the city.
Am I still a New Yorker? Part of what’s happened? Or a spoiled bystander?
I’m told not to donate food or clothes. The Red Cross doesn’t need it.
So what’s a guilty Long Islander to do besides donate cash?
My answer? Watch. Listen to the same information reported over and over again. Meet those who recount their escape. Force myself to experience the pain of my neighbors until my eyes give out on me.
It’s a small price to pay for safety.
Adam Baer writes for The New York Times, Slate, NPR, and various other publications.